CINCINNATI, – A little more than a week before Thanksgiving, a line formed outside the Freestore Foodbank. Before the pantry opened, the temperature was 42 degrees.
"Are you here for food?" customers were asked when they walked in.
The answer was consistent: "Yes."
At the beginning of the pandemic, the food bank provided for 100 to 125 people a day. Recently, it served 374 on a single day.
For some in line, the experience was a new embarrassment they didn’t want to discuss. For others, it was a monthly trip, part of their survival.
Marquette Brant was allowed 35 pounds of groceries, but she took less.
She works at Sam’s Club, but in March, her hours were cut. In May, she came to the food bank for the first time.
Waiting in line, Brant stood under a sign with bold, white letters that said “Hope." For her, hope is the tuna and noodles she had for dinner the night before, made with groceries she received from the food bank.
It's a story playing out across the nation this Thanksgiving: More Americans are in need of help to avoid going hungry amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Feeding America analysis estimates that 15 million more people will live in food insecure homes in the USA this year, compared with pre-pandemic estimates.
"Food banks have consistently seen a 60 percent increase in demand compared to this time last year, and continue to require more food and resources to provide to people in need," the organization said in a news release days before Thanksgiving.
The U.S. census reported in the week before Thanksgiving that about 12% of adults in American households with children received free groceries or a free meal the previous week, according to a survey conducted from Oct. 28 to Nov. 9.
About one of every four households in Rhode Island struggled over the summer to put food on the table, according to a report released Monday.
Despite federal assistance, 25% of households in the state were worried about having adequate food, up from 9.1% last year and the highest level of food insecurity in 20 years, according to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank's annual Status Report on Hunger. The survey found food insecurity caused by the pandemic has hit families of color particularly hard.
Food charities reported record demand before Thanksgiving.
In Arizona, a 2-mile line of cars waited to receive food from St. Mary’s Food Bank when holiday distribution started at 8 a.m. in Phoenix on Monday.
Jerry Brown, a spokesperson for the food bank, said the record-breaking number of people would be served in a contactless delivery system that works like "a NASCAR pit stop."
The demand "shows that a lot of people who used to be donors and volunteers are now in these cars getting food," Brown said.
In Ohio, the Army National Guard helped with food distribution in the Akron-Canton region. During a drive-thru distribution before Thanksgiving, the line of cars stretched for a mile.
Hundreds of people slept, listened to the radio, talked with passengers or played with their phones and waited. Some of them had been there for more than four hours.
In rural California, s at least one food bank braced for a "food cliff" that could leave it unable to serve clients heading into the new year.
"The food cliff is looming," said Nicole Celaya, executive director of Tulare County FoodLink. "The food system hasn't done a very good job of meeting the increased need. As COVID numbers continue to rise, it's going to get worse."
In Petal, Mississippi, the Petal Children's Task Force gave away 325 boxes of Thanksgiving food to residents – 75 more boxes than last year, according to Executive Director Demaris Lee.
"We've got a lot of people who have been cut in hours, some that have lost their jobs, and they come to us not wanting to ask for food, but they have to," Lee said. "That's what we are here for."
The organization depends on donations to provide help to those in need.
"We need food," Lee, said. "We can use all kinds of food. We have a cooler. We have a freezer."
Contributing: Brooke Newman and Emily Wilder, Arizona Republic; Eric Marotta, Akron Beacon Journal; Joshua Yeager, Visalia Times-Delta; Cam Bonelli, Hattiesburg American; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Thanksgiving strains US food banks, and 'it's going to get worse'